Having recently completed its mid-life modernization, USS Whidbey Island (LSD 41) and the ships in her class stand ready to support future operations for decades to come.
But why are these dock landing ships so important? A look into the history of the ships sheds light on their centrality to U.S. amphibious strategy at the time of their inception to today’s modern threats.
Whidbey Island, the first in her class, was commissioned on Feb. 9, 1985. The ships in her class were designed to counter Soviet Forces during the Cold War and are capable of landing Marines and equipment ashore while projecting air power against contended beaches.
At the time, the Soviet ‘Red Fleet’ was actively deploying the Ropucha (toad), or Project 775 class amphibious landing ships. Classified as large landing craft by the Russian Navy, the Ropucha class ships were designed for beach landings and could carry a 450-ton cargo load.
The majority of the Whidbey Island class ships were commissioned during the Cold War, with Ashland commissioning shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1992.
Together they are considered the “work-horses” of the amphibious Navy, featuring large well decks with the ability to launch and recover Landing Craft, Air Cushion (LCAC) hovercraft and a range of amphibious assault vehicles. They also feature large flight decks for multiple types of rotary-wing aircraft, including the tilt-rotor MV-22 Osprey. The hull design of the ship allows for a shallow draft, making them ideal for participating in amphibious operations close to shore.